In the midst of all the challenges of 2020 and a seemingly never-ending pandemic, our community partner in Peru, Sagrada Familia children’s home, sends a Christmas video message to all Global Volunteers alumni and supporters.
by Peru Country Manager Daniel Salazar
Full of hope and meaning, this message lifts me up and remind us all of the things that matter. Led by their always-encouraging and loving leader, Miguel, the children made this video for all to share. As I recall the traditional Christmas celebration we participated in at Sagrada Familia last year, I hope this message cheers people up everywhere.
2020 has been a rough year for everyone. Unfortunately, for most people living in Peru, the Christmas feeling is quickly fading away. It’s certainly not snowing outside since it’s summer, most people have lost their jobs so no one really expects presents, and the government has forbidden vehicle transportation on the 24th and 25th. At the same time, the Peruvian government has no idea when COVID-19 vaccines will be available for us.
Certainly, there will be few family gatherings. That’s very difficult for us, because family is very important to us. Normally, Peruvians celebrate Christmas by gathering with friends and family on the night of the 24th. They share a meal at about 10 p.m. mainly consisting of turkey and/or pork accompanied by a beats and potato salad, rice, and apple sauce. Peruvians also love to eat panettone and drink hot chocolate throughout the Christmas season. At midnight, we all stop eating and hug everyone else with wishes for a merry Christmas. Then we usually go outside to see the fireworks that brighten the Peruvian sky for hours. Finally, kids run to the Christmas tree to get their presents. The rest of the night the children play with their toys while adults talk. On the 25th, families gather again for a late breakfast or lunch, and everyone just enjoys each other’s company. This is supposed to be the tradition for most Peruvians, but things are different for those who can’t afford it or whose families are not present, as it is the case at Sagrada Familia.
At Sagrada Familia, where your next meal is usually not guaranteed, there could be no dream of a fancy turkey or pork dinner. Chicken and fries, much cheaper and usually donated, is the alternative. After enjoying the meal together, the party starts. The “chapel” has been decorated with Christmas lights and the older kids, acting as DJs, have selected their favorite songs. Dancing goes on until midnight when everyone goes outside to see the fireworks. The spectacle is interrupted only by the hugs everyone gives each other as they wish each other a merry Christmas. Miguel Rodríguez, founder and director of Sagrada Familia, has gathered some donations throughout the year and prepared boxes for each of the children that usually contain a piece of clothing, a simple toy, and perhaps some utensils such as toothbrushes or a towel. After the fireworks, each of the children receives the box with some of the things they need – not what they wish; they don’t write letters to Santa. Finally, the night ends (or rather starts) with more dancing until the kids run out of energy, which is usually well into the early morning.
My descriptions of the Christmas celebrations at Sagrada Familia will never do them justice. Having experienced them, it’s hard to explain how in the midst of so much need there could be so much love, happiness, and fun. It’s mind-blowing to see how in a place that was born out of missing or broken families, the main feeling in the air is precisely family love, perhaps even stronger than in some family gatherings. I can only add that some of the best Christmases I’ve spent in my life have been the ones with Sagrada Familia. Sadly, this is a different year, and although Miguel will do his best to keep their traditional celebration, health concerns will prevent them from doing certain things, like inviting friends of the community to their party. For the past two years, we were their guests; this year we don’t have that privilege.
And so, 2020 remains a rough year for everyone, full of limitations, challenges, and lessons to be learned. Some of the latter include the importance of adequate hygiene or the value of closeness to friends and family. For Sagrada Familia, these lessons have also been painful reminders of what they lack. Since the resident children have limited access to water, soap, and adequate bathroom facilities, and have no close relatives or can rarely spend time with them, this year and this Christmas season will continue to be difficult. Yet, once again they have reacted in the opposite way one would expect. Just like at the beginning of the year, when they decided to bake bread for the communities around them when they themselves were running out of food, at the end of this troublesome year, they have decided to be thankful for it and even cheer us up. Their intention is to thank us for our support, remind us of the meaning of Christmas, of the things that matter in life, of the bond that we have with them, and to wish us a merry Christmas. We still have lots to learn from this wonderful community.
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